Although I help people every day manage their weight, I also work with people with eating disorders. My counseling techniques do change depending on my client but one thing always remains the same: extreme dieting is bad. Understanding the difference between normal, everyday improvements with eating and extreme dieting can be tricky. Explaining this difference to anyone who does not have a skewed relationship with food (and even to those with this problem) can be a challenge.

Extreme dieting is a problem for so many reasons since both physical and mental health is compromised. Unfortunately, a new trend is emerging where dieting is called “lifestyle change” or “healthy eating”, but the rigid rules of dieting are the same. Here are a few key points to help you decided if you are following an extreme diet:

Does your diet or “lifestyle change” involve delaying eating? this could mean fasting, delaying eating as long as possible during the day or many hours between meals.

Are you restricting the overall amount you eat? this likely means you are tracking calories and trying to eat under a certain amount. Generally, if you do not have an eating disorder, this can be done safely as long as you aim for a realistic amount- at least 1500 calories per day. Anything under 1200 is considered extreme.

Are you avoiding certain types of food? maybe this is due to their high fat or sugar content, or for some so-called “proven” reason that claims it leads to weight gain. In general this is not an issue if you are cutting down on certain foods and savouring them once a week rather than 7 days a week. However, when these foods become outright banned or forbidden, then the diet becomes extreme. The slippery slope to “yo-yo dieting” or developing an eating disorder may not be far away when this banned food list grows.

So what are the alternatives to extreme dieting? Try a mindful eating or intuitive eating approach. They have been proven to be just as successful (if not more successful) as other traditional weight management techniques. These approaches are more gentle and zen and allow you to develop skills that will help you for many years to come to manage your weight versus a diet plan that tells you what to eat and only works when you follow the strict plan.

Check out my suggested readings for some great books on mindful eating!